Mr. Justice the Hon. Seymour Panton Speaks on Family, Hanover, and Jamaica’s Inferiority Complex

I attended a remarkably stimulating event on November 29, a Salute to the Parish of Hanover. The Institute of Jamaica worked hard to put together a detailed, informative and altogether very satisfying morning. I wish that the Lecture Hall had been really full and that the media had shown up – there were many fascinating stories to explore. 

The lovely red brick of the Institute of Jamaica, on East Street, downtown Kingston. (My photo)

Not least of these stories would have been the engaging keynote speech by a man born and raised in Hanover, who served for some years as President of our Court of Appeal, Justice Seymour Panton. The speech moved from a stinging overview of some current topics he could have spoken about – but didn’t. Then we enjoyed some of his childhood memories, his pride in his alma mater, Rusea’s High School and the disgraceful state of the parish capital, Lucea. By the way, this was not mentioned but the Seymour Panton Mentorship Centre, a project of the Rusea’s Old Students Association, was opened in Justice Panton’s honour at the school in February 2010.

So, on… to Justice Panton’s views on Jamaica’s clinging to the colonial “mother country,” the United Kingdom. This he delivered in a firm voice that barely disguised his annoyance at the country’s refusal to embrace the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal, instead of sticking with the UK Privy Council (“the devil we know”?)  It was a reprimand of our leaders.

Anyway, here is the full text of his speech, which I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed listening to it. Thanks to Ms Okema Hamilton at the Institute of Jamaica for sharing it with me.

Hon. Justice Seymour Panton, O.J.

Speech on the Occasion of a Salute to the Parish of Hanover

November 29, 2018

I regard it as an honour to have been invited by Mr Howard Mitchell, Chairman of the Institute of Jamaica to speak at this celebration of the parish of my birth, Hanover. This is the second occasion on which I have been invited to speak within these hallowed walls. The earlier situation was approximately eleven years ago when the Independent Jamaica Council for Human rights extended the honour to me. At that time I was expected, and indeed requested, to address the human rights situation of the day. However, on this occasion, the Chairman of Council has given me free rein as he has indicated that I was free to share with you a topic of my choice. I have accordingly thought of many topics, situations and things that I could share with you.

I thought of the proposal to grant paternity leave to fathers but came up on certain situations which I was not ready to contemplate. I was wondering whether some Jamaican men would ever work again, given the number of children some have and the number of ladies they have them with. Is it that there would be some attempt to differentiate which children and with which ladies the provision would operate? That would probably give rise to a constitutional violation of some sort. So I decided to leave that topic for a future occasion.

Mandela Park in Half Way Tree is a chaotic place at the best of times. Recently, taxi drivers protesting the Road Traffic Act blocked the road. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

I thought of the taximen who are up in arms because they don’t want to pay for traffic tickets that they routinely get. The drivers don’t pay and have no intention of paying, and they do not want the owners of the vehicles to pay either. These folks want to change the law as to vicarious liability. And they are using the old tactic of blocking the roads and pulling people out of other vehicles that are providing service to the travelling public. There were even threats to damage publicly owned buses. In the wake of this, the Senate has placed a pause on the passage of the new traffic law. Some people are saying that the Senators are afraid of the taximen. I don’t believe that, because it would be a capitulation to illegality and the Senators would never do that. I hope the Senators realize that the Court records will show that many crimes are committed by some taxi drivers and in some taxis. People who are getting multiple driving tickets are criminals, and the Senators are not expected to give solace to criminals.

Stafanie Taylor is the Jamaican captain of the West Indies women’s cricket team – which, it must be said, has been doing considerably better than the men’s team of late.

Another topic that came to mind was West Indies cricket. The other day I overheard a heated discussion between two cricket lovers. The problem between them was how many runs or wickets the West Indies would lose each match by. I couldn’t believe my ears. But by the time that argument was settled, one of these cricket lovers said that there had been an announcement that Cricket West Indies was being asked that the Prime Ministers of the region should be allowed to pick the West Indies team. The individual said that the Prime Ministers were planning to merge the male and female teams, and perhaps appoint the Jamaican cricketer Stafanie Taylor to captain the team. It was argued that at a time when we are promoting gender equality, this would be the appropriate thing to do. I told these cricket lovers that I did not believe a word of what was being said as the Prime Ministers have much more important matters, such as the economies of the region to contemplate. Anyway, I have noted that the West Indies Women’s cricket team will be touring England at the time of the World Cup to be held in England next year. So, that is something to watch. One never knows. A male player may get injured and the replacement may well be one of the ladies. We will just have to wait and see how that idea develops.

Having exhausted those options, I decided to reminisce on a part of my early days in Hanover. Needless to say, I am a very proud born and bred Hanoverian. My parents were living in Salt Spring, Green Island at the time of my birth. However, my mother had to go to her mother Agatha Lawrence in Blenheim for the delivery of her firstborn. Being born in a hospital was not an option then. Hence I ended up being born in the same district as our National Hero Rt Excellent William Alexander Bustamante. Green Island was my home for the first fourteen years of my life, and then for the next four Wood Church, adjoining Blenheim, was my base after my Dad (and later, my mother) migrated to England. My grandmother Agatha had moved from Blenheim to Wood Church, where her oldest brother had bought some land.

The birthplace of National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante in Blenheim, Hanover, the district where Justice Panton was also born. In this picture it has a ribbon round it; the building was reconstructed by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust after it was destroyed by fire, so this picture was taken before the ribbon-cutting. (Photo: JNHT)

I have very fond memories of life in Hanover. While in Green Island, it was so nice walking barefooted to and from the elementary school. We walked at the edge of the sea, playing with the flow of the tide and waves; in between the fishermen and their canoes. The criminals then were one or two, and all they did was steal fowls off their nightly roosts by lighting sulphur at the base of the trees. There was the occasional fistfight at a dance. And that was it. Murders were few and far between in the parish. Certainly, Green Islanders never committed murder. Nowadays, we hear of murders in the parish, but you can bet your last dollar that these murders are either committed by or inspired by, intruders. Hanover is a very peaceful parish.

Incidentally, I never visited the parish capital, Lucea, until I was taking the entrance examination for Rusea’s. And better still, I never ventured outside the parish until I was fourteen years old. There were only about three or four motor vehicles in Green Island, and only one bus passed through each day. If you missed it, that was it. Piped water in houses was a pipe dream. You were lucky if there was a pipe at your gate. But in all this, we were very happy. Running water for us was that which ran in the rivers or streams in the area.

Holidays were spent using catapults to shoot birds. We fished in the streams, and we played marbles in the streets. We ran endless errands to the shops, and we were satisfied with the bread, buns and cakes baked at Mr Grey’s bakery. The streets were swept every morning, and my Dad, who was a District Constable, kept the peace with only the sight of a baton. He was also the mail courier and did this on a squeaky bicycle each day except Sunday. He was very poorly paid, but he never complained.

Lucea was a very peaceful town. It had clean streets and persons who took pride in their appearance. The clock in the centre of the town kept the right time. We did not know that the police had guns.

The parish was adorned with families that were looked on as models, although there was really no sign of them being wealthy. They held their heads up and lived honestly. They were committed to giving their children a good education.

Rusea’s High School was founded in 1777 by a French refugee, Martin Rusea (a Huguenot) who left the land in his will for the construction of a free school.

In my second year at Rusea’s, we were very privileged to receive the gift of an inspirational principal in the form of Mr Eric Lawson Frater. He transformed not only the school but the parish. We started to look outward. The school moved from just over one hundred students when he arrived, to over five hundred when he left six years later. The school began to enter regional and national competitions. We copped the top award for cadets; won the discus and placed in the shot put at Champs; thrashed all the schools in the West in debating and so on. We had inspirational teachers. Gertrude Burke, Shirley Field Ridley, Mary Brathwaite, later Morgan, Lawrence Allan Eyre, the Choudarays, the Shukers, and so on.

We gave birth to persons who were destined for greatness. Carl Dundas, who managed the troublesome elections of 1980 and later moved on to CARICOM and the Commonwealth Secretariat; the Most Hon. Sir Kenneth Hall, who became a professor in the USA, was influential in CARICOM, became Principal of the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), and of course was our Governor-General. We should not forget people like Merlene Ottey, who entered Rusea’s long after Mr Frater’s tenure. Of course, Merlene is spoken of by the uninformed as if she only went to Vere. At page 25 of the authorized biography of Merlene Ottey, penned by the late Claire Forrester with Alvin Campbell, it reads as follows: “Merlene’s good deportment at Ruseas’s led to her being appointed a Prefect during her final year.” The support for athletics at Rusea’s was not much then, due to the fact that Rusea’s has never been a wealthy school, and we had no strong outside support. Merlene, in order to develop her talent, had to move on, and Vere Technical was the beneficiary. Merlene was fortunate that her maternal uncle, Samuel Bowen, was a senior teacher at Vere Technical.

There are many others who have left that institution and made a mark not only in this country but elsewhere. Dr Grantel Dundas, orthopaedic surgeon of note is one such person. Rev. Oliver Daley, one-time moderator of the United Church is another. I could stay here all morning and the list would not end.

By the way, we developed a habit at Rusea’s of helping students who came from other schools and parishes. There were those who could not make it at their Kingston school, and we took them in. They became good boys and girls when they came to Rusea’s; not only good, we made them shine in the classroom as well as on the sporting field.

Of course, the times have moved on and whereas Rusea’s and Knockalva were the only post-elementary institutions in the parish for a considerable time, now there are several established secondary institutions…in Green Island, Hopewell, and there is, of course, the Merlene Ottey High School.

Lucea has a really pretty harbour. Why, then, is the town itself so ramshackle and neglected, Mr. Mayor? (Photo:

When I look at the physical state of Lucea today, my heart pains me. It is so choked up, with drains and sidewalks badly in need of fixing. Lucea has not kept apace. The countryside around is so beautiful, but the heart of the town is physically in torment. I realize that part of Hanover’s problem is that development seems to only glance at it. Hanover gets something if there is something in it for St. James or Westmoreland. So, a piece of road will be fixed if tourists are likely to be using it. Tourists are seen as being either in Montego Bay or Negril – the Westmoreland part of Negril. Things are done for Lucea only if Montego Bay and Negril are to benefit. The tourism people and the ignorant writers project Round Hill Hotel and Tryall Hotel as being in Montego Bay. When the Johnny Walker Golf Tournament was being held at Tryall, the world was told that Tryall was in Montego Bay. I strongly suspect that it is only because oil has not been found in the Dolphin Mountain why the same people have not said that the Dolphin Mountain is in Montego Bay. I am listening for it to be said one day that the Great River divides St James from St James.

I look forward to the day when a solid Hanoverian, preferably a Rusean, will make it to Gordon House. I cannot recall Hanover ever having a Cabinet Minister. It is high time for there to be such a person, who would no doubt help to lift the standing of the parish. I am sure there are bright, honest, hardworking young Hanoverians who would add quality to the Cabinet of this country.

This brings me to the question of governance. At Rusea’s in my time, we took a great interest in the world around us, and we were strong on nation-building. That spirit has not left us. Our country has been professing for the past 56 years that it is an independent country. I say that is not so. We are still under the headship and leadership of the United Kingdom. We have a document called a Constitution. It spells it out quite clearly. It says that the executive authority of Jamaica is vested in Her Majesty. And in relation to the Courts, it says the final word comes from Her Majesty in Council. So, the Queen rules this country; but she has delegated some people here to take the blame when things go wrong because the Queen can do no wrong. That is the constitutional position.

There is a strange situation though that if you want to see Her Majesty, you have to apply for a visa and pay for it. There was a time when persons who wished to go to the United Kingdom simply bought a ticket and took the plane or boat. As time passed, we have been made to pay larger and larger sums for a visa, and there is no guarantee you are going to get it. So, if you have a case before Her Majesty in Council, you may not get a chance to go there if you wish to argue your case or to hear it being argued. That is fact…not fiction.

Arms of the United Kingdom with Crown and Garter, the version used by the Privy Council Office.

There is a funny situation, however. Former colonies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have never needed to get a visa. And New Zealand by a simple majority abolished appeals to Her Majesty in Council in 2004. Although they have abolished such appeals, they can go to the United Kingdom freely. We who have not abolished such appeals have to scrounge for a visa. The whole thing is laughable. Our leaders should be ashamed of the situation. It is that we have no pride, no shame?

We who have sent and are sending judges to other countries, we who have teachers, craftsmen, artists, musicians, labourers, doctors, engineers, scientists of all sorts all over the world. We with such a wealth of honest, hardworking talent dispersing all over the globe, we still feel the United Kingdom should settle our court issues and rule our executive. There was a time when certain political figures were all for the removal of the Privy Council from our affairs. There was a change of political fortunes, and then those very persons turned against the idea. That is a wrong approach to governance. Our national heroes Rt Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante and Rt Excellent Norman Manley never intended for us to be forever with the Privy Council. They are bathing Heroes Park with their tears over the failure of the succeeding generations to take the final step into independence. It is a disgrace if you ask me. I was sitting beside Lord Hoffman, then of the Privy Council, at a conference in Montego Bay shortly after I became the President of our Court of Appeal. He said that he was unable to understand why Jamaica still sent cases to the Privy Council. Similar questions were asked by him a few years earlier of Trinidad and Tobago, at a conference in Port of Spain.

In my humble view, our failure to complete our independence by removing the Privy Council is an indication of the survival of the freeness mentality, and it is a clear display of an inferiority complex. The freeness aspect comes in when it is considered that years ago, some folks here were arguing that the Privy Council was good for us because it was free. The inferiority complex comes in on the basis that some persons seem to feel that once it is decided by the British, it is OK, but if done by our own, it is not OK. If there is a feeling that the Privy Council does no wrong, and is the only vessel for justice for Jamaicans, then I regret to say that such a feeling is reserved by the devil in a paradise that is fit for fools only.

A photo of Hanover Parish Church in Lucea – quickly taken through a bus window as we passed through there recently.


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